Only on a Sunday

With two fancy new brunches, you can finally prove to your mom that you really do have a job

Nicollet Island Inn
95 Merriam St., Minneapolis
612.331.1800
www.nicolletislandinn.com

 

Sapor Cafe * Bar
428 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis
612.375.1971
www.saporcafe.com

Carefully composed: The Nicollet Island Inn trades carving stations for an elegant, updated prix fixe brunch
Bill Kelley
Carefully composed: The Nicollet Island Inn trades carving stations for an elegant, updated prix fixe brunch

 

There comes a time in the life of every modern person when we must grapple with the fact that we share a preponderance of our DNA with the common fruit fly. And while some find this appealing, and dream of transport through cantaloupe, most find this to be the sort of thing that looks exceptionably bad to a loan officer. In any event, one is forced to conclude that practically nothing sets people apart from the animals, except for the human appreciation of brunch, and the animals' growing disillusionment with Sid, the giraffe in Cage 12. Which is not to say that the animals do not appreciate a good brunch, but is simply to point out that they rarely have a really good place to keep their credit cards.

Hopefully, you do. Because there comes a time in every modern person's life when we must prove to a woman with whom we share even more DNA than a fruit fly that we really do have a job, and, moreover, the ability to converse in the mornings. Yes, there comes a time when you must take your mother to brunch. Preferably to a place where she can wear her pearls, and drink a mimosa, and no one will have cause to remember that time you got sent home from summer camp because of the unfortunate incident with the flagpole, the Italian assistant counselor, and the archery coach.

This spring, two new classy, sunshiny, high-heel-friendly prix-fixe brunches, the kind that act on moms the way company cars do on dads, debuted in downtown Minneapolis, so I went out and gave them a whirl.

The fanciest is at the Nicollet Island Inn, where, for $30 a head, you get a mimosa or other beverage, and five of the most memorably darling courses I've ever seen at a brunch. My visit was on a sparkly, sunny, birds-chirping-in-the-treetops-and-all-is-right-with-the-world sort of morning. We walked through the country-club-gracious space, and once we sat, at a pretty window-side table with views of the old iron bridge to St. Anthony Main, we were treated like brunching royalty.

The meal got off to a bright start with drinks made with fresh orange juice and a basket of wee pastries, including tiny fruit-filled muffins and a marvelous kind of cinnamon-caramel pastry that looked like two drinking straws entwined, and gave you all the joy of a cinnamon roll without any of the usual bulk. For a next course I tried a pair of small buttermilk biscuits, exactly as flaky and golden as they should be, cloaked in a gorgeously heavy cream gravy studded with bits of maple sausage. My date got crème brûlée French toast, two thick, eggy, cakelike triangles with a crisp millimeter of crust that were served with slices of fresh strawberries, fresh whipped cream, and a fresh, bright-pink strawberry coulis: precious!

A slice of Maytag blue cheese and white peach tart alongside a mixed green salad dressed in a thyme oil vinaigrette and topped with toasted hazelnuts followed, as did perhaps my favorite course of it all, a Prosecco gélee filled with fresh raspberries and blueberries. This is essentially Jell-O done up in Breakfast at Tiffany's style: The Italian sparkling wine in the pale gold gelatin made the stuff literally shimmer and effervesce on the tongue, while the fresh juicy berries added some amount of terrestrial presence, as well as sweetness, even more texture, and pop. It was the happy soul of early summer, captured in five forkfuls.

The big, substantial fourth entrée courses were no less pleasant than all the frills and fancies that preceded them. A pan-roasted salmon fillet served in a bowl with an elegant, light fresh dill cream sauce and a lively cucumber and fennel salad was everything you hope for in a brunch entrée: Healthy, vivacious, and so elegantly done that it's clear you're not dining at home. Another one of the big entrées, slices of rare grilled hanger steak arranged with balsamic-glazed roast crimini mushrooms and big wedges of crisp Parmesan-coated potato, was a filling and impressive dish, and would be sure to satisfy any dad who happened to sneak in.

The meal ends with your choice of desserts, and, when I was there, they were nothing short of a triumph: A chocolate ice-cream sandwich stood up on one of its corners in a bowl of lush banana crème anglaise like a fancy, geometric sculpture; tip it over and the tender cake of the outside of the ice cream sandwich, the dusky chocolate ice cream, and the rich crème anglaise combine in a way that is both as innocent as a picnic and as sophisticated as the fanciest brunch in five states. The strawberry shortcake, based on a cornmeal cake made with fresh orange zest and given a little extra zip with a silky rhubarb compote, was also pleasant in every way: The touch of orange and rhubarb made it just different enough to be surprising and to ensure you'd never do it at home, but the pure flavors, including a big white hat of fresh whipped cream, would make it lovable to even those who prefer the most simple dishes.

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